Posted on: August 2, 2011 7:10 pm

Marlins build a ballpark, and maybe a team

NEW YORK -- The Marlins announced Tuesday that they'll open their new ballpark with two exhibition games against the Yankees.

Two days earlier, they announced that they'll open the new ballpark with the same core of players they have now.

That's not exactly true, but it sure did feel significant that the Marlins let this non-waiver trade deadline pass without sending anyone away. The Marlins haven't usually been active sellers in July, but somehow it felt more significant that they didn't sell anyone off this July 31.

It didn’t go unnoticed in the clubhouse, either.

"Next year, going to the new stadium, we're going to need those pieces," Wes Helms said.

That squares with what the Marlins told teams that inquired about Ricky Nolasco, Anibal Sanchez, Leo Nunez and other Marlins. The Marlins may not have much chance at catching the Braves in the NL wild-card race (although they say they're not giving up on that yet), but they believe that a strong finish this year can be an important step towards what they hope to do in the new park next year.

"They know they want a winner going into the new stadium," Helms said.

It was a strange trade deadline in the NL East. The two teams that have pulled away at the top did exactly what you'd expect -- both the Phillies and Braves improved by adding Astros outfielders -- but the three teams at the bottom resisted all-out sales.

The Mets traded only the two players they absolutely had to move, outfielder Carlos Beltran and closer Francisco Rodriguez. The Nationals eventually dealt starter Jason Marquis, but only after trading for a bench player (Jonny Gomes) and trying like heck to trade for a center fielder.

And the Marlins held onto what they have, happy that after falling 11 games under .500 in late June, they played well enough in July that they began play Tuesday just one game below break-even for the season.

"I've always preached to them that once we get to .500, we'll take off," manager Jack McKeon said. "I gave that same speech in '03."

The difference was by the first days of August 2003, the Marlins were already 10 games over .500, and just two games behind in the wild-card race. As of Tuesday, the Marlins were 8 1/2 games behind the wild-card leading Braves (and a game behind the third-place Mets).

At this point, it really seems to be about finishing strong and building momentum towards the new stadium.

"It was important to win games and continue to improve and have continuity," general manager Larry Beinfest told reporters after the July 31 deadline passed. "And we felt pretty good about keeping this team together at this point and having a good, productive two months as we head into the new ballpark."

Beinfest and McKeon said the Marlins would have added rather than subtracted had they made a move at the deadline.

"I mean, we're trying to build," McKeon said. "We're not trying to trade our good pieces off."

They're building a ballpark. They believe they're building a winning team.

They're trying to sell tickets. They didn't sell their players.

It's all related.
Posted on: July 29, 2011 10:59 pm

With Pence, Charlie Manuel gets his hitter

Charlie Manuel got his way.

He got his hitter.

And Ruben Amaro proved that when given the choice, he doesn't always trade for a pitcher. He may often trade for an Astro, but not always for a pitcher.

Oh, and Hunter Pence steps in as the next Jayson Werth.

That's basically what Friday night's big trade comes down to. The Phillies, who allowed Werth to leave as a free agent last winter (no way were they going to match the $126 million Werth got from the Nationals), have now acquired Pence to take his place in right field, and his fifth spot in the batting order, behind Chase Utley and Ryan Howard.

Young Domonic Brown proved unable to handle that spot, at least for now.

Pence is in some ways the perfect Phillies acquisition, because he cost only prospects (very good prospects, but very young prospects), and because they'll have him under control for at least two years after this one. In building a Phillies roster that has won four straight division titles and played in two World Series, Amaro and his mentor, Pat Gillick, have emphasized building a core that could stay together for a number of years.

This week, the Phillies basically passed on Carlos Beltran, who is a more dynamic hitter than Pence, but is a true rental player who they would have only controlled to the end of this season.

That fits the Phillies' pattern. Picking a hitter over a pitcher doesn't.

In fact, this will be the first year since 2005 that the Phillies' big in-season acquisition isn't a starting pitcher.

They don't need another starter, not with a rotation that includes Roy Halladay, Cole Hamels, Cliff Lee, Roy Oswalt and the emerging Vance Worley. They might need bullpen help, but Phillies people remind you that with a four-man playoff rotation, either Oswalt or Worley would pitch out of the bullpen in October.

Even so, earlier this week, Amaro came to the clubhouse to poll the Phillies' coaching staff. Hitter or pitcher, he asked.

You know which way Manuel voted.

The Phillies manager always wants another hitter. He often campaigns openly for Amaro to add another hitter.

This time, he got his way.

Pence is a good fit for the Phillies, just as Beltran fit the Giants well. The Giants needed someone to bat third. The Phillies already had the third and fourth spots covered.

Pence can just fit in, as Werth did for many years. And as a right-handed hitter, he fits in particularly well behind Utley and Howard, who both bat left-handed.

He's also, as one Phillies person said Friday, "reliable."

And you know he has his new manager smiling, even before he gets to town.

Posted on: July 29, 2011 9:01 pm
Edited on: July 29, 2011 10:34 pm

Phillies get Pence from Astros

The Phillies have acquired outfielder Hunter Pence from the Astros, in a trade announced late Friday night.

Pence, a 28-year-old two-time All-Star, gives the Phillies the strong outfield bat that manager Charlie Manuel has been asking for. Pence hit .308 with 62 RBI in 100 games this year for the Astros. Manuel told reporters that Pence will likely bat fifth, behind Chase Utley and Ryan Howard, in the Phillies' lineup.

While Pence isn't as dynamic a player as Carlos Beltran, the outfielder the Giants got this week from the Mets, he fits the Phillies' pattern of acquiring players they can control past the end of the year. Pence can't become a free agent until the end of the 2013 season. That's why the Phillies were willing to pay a bigger price for him than they would have for Beltran.

Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro also has a history of being able to make deals with Astros GM Ed Wade. The two worked together when Wade was with the Phillies, and last year they engineered the trade that sent Roy Oswalt to Philadelphia.

In exchange for Pence, the Astros received two of the Phillies' top prospects, first baseman Jonathan Singleton and pitcher Jarred Cosart, who were both at Class A Clearwater. They also get Double-A pitcher Josh Zeid, as well as a player to be named later, who will also be a minor leaguer. The Astros included cash ($1 million, according to Jon Heyman of SI.com), to cover part of Pence's $6.9 million salary.

Pence started for the Astros Friday night, but was pulled out of the game in the fifth inning. He was then shown receiving hugs and handshakes in the Astros dugout.

The Braves had also tried to get Pence, but they weren't willing to surrender any of their top pitching prospects. The Phillies, who valued Pence more, were willing to come up with the players to convince the Astros to make the deal.

The Phillies originally expected that Domonic Brown could take over in right field this year, after they allowed Jayson Werth to leave for Washington as a free agent. But Brown got hurt in spring training and has struggled since then, and Manuel told reporters Friday afternoon that he would be better off developing in the minor leagues.

Earlier this week, the Phillies were still trying to decide whether to prioritize an outfielder or bullpen help. They decided to make Pence their top target, in part because they believe the bullpen will be strengthened in the playoffs by the addition of whichever starter they don't use in their postseason rotation (either Vance Worley or Oswalt).

The big question then was whether the Astros would truly consider dealing Pence, who is a favorite of outgoing Houston owner Drayton McLane. At one point this week, Astros officials were telling friends with other teams that they were much more likely to trade Pence this winter.

Once Beltran was dealt to the Giants on Wednesday, however, the Astros realized that the time to maximize Pence's value was now. Incoming owner Jim Crane intends to start a complete rebuild in Houston, likely dropping the Astros' payroll to around $60 million next year. So moving Pence, who makes $6.9 million this year and will be due for an arbitration raise, began to make more sense.

The Astros have also shopped center fielder Michael Bourn (the Reds are interested), and starting pitchers Wandy Rodriguez and Brett Myers. But Pence was always the one who would bring the biggest return.

The Braves move on to other targets. They could try to make a deal for White Sox outfielder Carlos Quentin, but the Sox are believed to be asking for the same high-end pitching prospects that the Braves refused to deal for Pence. Atlanta could also step up efforts to get Ryan Ludwick from the Padres, or potentially try to get B.J. Upton from the Rays.

Posted on: July 28, 2011 6:39 pm
Edited on: July 28, 2011 7:01 pm

Braves, Phils like Carlos Quentin

With the Tigers' loss to the Angels Thursday, the White Sox head into the weekend just three games out of first place in the American League Central.

Could they really trade Carlos Quentin, who is second on the team in both home runs and RBI?

Perhaps so, if the return is high enough. And with the Braves and Phillies both seriously interested, according to sources, the return may well be high enough.

The Braves are desperate to add an outfield bat, and the word Thursday was that they were making a big push for Quentin. The Phillies' wish list, according to Jim Salisbury of CSN Philadelphia, is topped by Hunter Pence, Quentin and Mike Adams. Many people still doubt that Pence will be traded, and people are starting to doubt that the Padres will move Adams, as well.

But what's in it for the White Sox?

That's more complicated. The Sox could call up Dayan Viciedo to replace Quentin. Viciedo has been dealing with what's described as a minor thumb issue, but he's hitting .307 with 16 home runs and 65 RBI in Triple-A. That's nice, but if the Sox believed Viciedo was their best option, he'd be in the big leagues already.

And that's why the return in a potential Quentin deal is so important. If the Braves were willing to include a few of their top pitching prospects -- the same guys they refused to trade for Carlos Beltran -- the White Sox could become convinced that a deal would give them a much better chance to compete next year, while not totally giving up on this season.

If the Phillies were willing to deal Domonic Brown and one or two of their top pitching prospects, the Sox could do the same thing.

Quentin can't be a free agent until after the 2012 season, so it's not out of the question that the Braves or Phillies would pay a higher price for him than they would have agreed to give up for Beltran, a true rental player.

The White Sox could decide that while they may have enough to win a weak AL Central this year, but not enough to compete in October.

"They just don't like their team," said one baseball man who speaks regularly with White Sox officials.

The Braves and Phillies aren't the only teams that like Quentin. The Reds and Red Sox have both shown interest in the past, although it's not clear whether they are working to get him this week.

Quentin is making $5.5 million this year and would be due a raise next year (when he'll again be arbitration-eligible), so by trading him the White Sox would also free up payroll that could allow them to make other moves.
Posted on: July 28, 2011 4:07 pm
Edited on: July 28, 2011 6:44 pm

With Beltran gone, interest in Pence picks up

Interest in Hunter Pence has picked up considerably, even as some rival officials continue to doubt that the Astros will trade their All-Star outfielder.

With Carlos Beltran now off the market, the Braves, Phillies, the Reds and many other teams have spoken to the Astros about Pence, a 28-year-old who has emerged as the face of the franchise in Houston. Pence has a .307 batting average and 62 RBI, and his value is enhanced by the fact that he won't be a free agent until after the 2013 season.

Earlier in the week, the Astros were telling people that it was much more likely Pence would be dealt this winter, rather than this week. But with interest increasing, some people involved in the talks now believe a deal could get done.

Some rival officials, though, continue to doubt that the Astros will complete a trade, saying that outgoing owner Drayton McLane won't permit it.

McLane has an agreement to sell the Astros to Jim Crane, but that deal still awaits MLB approval, so McLane remains in charge. Many in baseball expect Crane to change general managers once he takes over, so there is also doubt that he and McLane would allow Ed Wade the authority to trade their most valuable asset.

The Braves and Phillies both have interest in adding an outfield bat. Besides Pence, the Braves have discussed Ryan Ludwick with the Padres and Josh Willingham with the A's. They have also long had interest in Carlos Quentin of the White Sox.

Posted on: July 28, 2011 4:00 pm
Edited on: July 28, 2011 4:08 pm
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Posted on: July 27, 2011 4:38 pm

No Beltran, no Pence, but Phils want relievers

Yes, the Phillies made an effort for Carlos Beltran, before backing down and allowing him to go to the Giants. Yes, the Phillies talked to the Astros about Hunter Pence, although it appears now that nothing will happen, and the Astros will look to deal Pence in the winter, instead.

And as usual, the Phillies' biggest acquisition this month might well be a pitcher.

The Phillies remain among the teams most interested in Padres relievers Heath Bell and Mike Adams, although like others they continue to complain about the high prices. The Phils have looked at the Orioles and other teams, as well, in hopes of finding bullpen help.

I know, the Phillies bullpen has been among the most successful in the game this year. Their three blown saves are the fewest in the majors, and only one of the three came in the ninth inning. And after playing much of the year with three closers (Brad Lidge, Ryan Madson and Jose Contreras) on the disabled list, the Phillies now have Madson and Lidge back on the active roster.

Fine. But fast-forward to October, because the Phillies are all about October.

Do you feel comfortable with Michael Stutes and Antonio Bastardo pitching late in games in the playoffs? Are you sure about Madson as your playoff closer? Will Lidge be healthy and strong enough to help?

People who talk to the Phillies say they're asking all of those questions themselves, and that the answer can be seen in their efforts on the trade market.

The Phillies will likely still look to acquire a right-handed hitter, but it may well be more of a platoon bat off the bench. That could change, obviously, depending on who is available, and it would be interesting to see if the Phillies went after Carlos Quentin, if the White Sox really make him available.

The Phillies didn't get Beltran, and they almost certainly won't get Pence. Don't be surprised if they end up with a reliever.
Posted on: July 24, 2011 1:22 pm
Edited on: July 24, 2011 3:53 pm

Beltran derby into final days, Rangers interested

With the Carlos Beltran derby heading into the final days, there were suggestions Sunday that the Phillies' interest has cooled, that the Rangers' interest has picked up and that the Giants are still heavily involved.

Meanwhile, the Mets continue to hold out hope that one team or another will agree to surrender its top prospect in return for Beltran, who is the best hitter on the free-agent market but is also strictly a rental player.

Beltran must approve any trade, and as many others have reported, his preference is to stay in the National League. But one person close to him said Sunday that it's possible that Beltran would approve a deal to the Rangers.

Texas fits some of Beltran's stated criteria, since the Rangers are likely to be in the playoffs and have a real chance of getting to the World Series. Also, the Rangers could offer Beltran regular playing time in the outfield, either by playing Beltran in center field or (more likely) by moving Josh Hamilton back to center.

Earlier this month, the Rangers seemed most focused on adding pitching, either in the rotation or the bullpen. They talked to the Rockies about Ubaldo Jimenez, and discussed relievers with the Padres.

But the Rangers sent a scout in to see Beltran at the end of the Mets' homestand last week, and by Sunday one rival official was suggesting that the Rangers could even be the favorite, because they had more prospects available and also could take on more of Beltran's salary.

The Braves, Red Sox, Pirates and even the Reds have been mentioned in connection with Beltran.

Because Beltran is easily the biggest impact hitter on the market, the Mets can justify asking for the world. What works against them actually getting it is that both the Giants and the Rangers (and the Phillies, for that matter) will very likely make the playoffs with or without a Beltran trade.

For those teams, the question is how much better Beltran would make them in October, and how much that's worth in terms of giving up top prospects.

The Mets are said by sources to have asked for pitcher Zack Wheeler from the Giants. According to Jon Heyman of SI.com, they asked for first Domonic Brown and then Jarred Cosart from the Phillies. It's no surprise that the Phils said no on both. There were also reports that the Mets had asked for Mike Minor from the Braves, and again it's no surprise that the Braves said no.

The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com